Why Church?

“Why Church?”
Acts 2:42-47
Sunday, September 16, 2012 – National Back to Church Sunday
I have good news for you!  Studies over the past twenty years show that those who attend church regularly have:

  • lower blood pressure
  • happier outlooks
  • better marriages
  • fewer divorces
  • and longer lives!
    So you couldn’t have picked a better place to be this morning.

I want to tell you a story about this thing we call “The Church.”  Find a Bible and turn to Acts 2:42…Acts 2 is the story of the very first church, which started in Jerusalem around 33AD. Listen to the story…[Read: Acts 2:42–47]

Napoleon once said that imagination rules the world.  What he meant is that people are more often moved by powerful ideas than by charismatic personalities, legislation, or brute force.  Throughout history men and women have expended extraordinary effort and demonstrated legendary devotion for a vision they really believed in.  The history of our country is filled with examples of vision-casting leaders who captured the imaginations of the American people.  Thomas Jefferson had a vision for a free, self-ruled democratic society.  Abraham Lincoln articulated a vision of ending slavery and reuniting a nation.  Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech moved our country toward a racial equality that judges people not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Two thousand years ago, a carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus burst on the scene with a vision that has changed the world…Everywhere he went Jesus inspired people’s imaginations by painting a picture of a spiritual and relational movement like nothing they had ever seen.  His teaching was so compelling that people went without food to hear him tell about a God who loved them personally.  They thronged to hear him teach about a phenomenon he called the“Kingdom of God.”  What Jesus envisioned was so valuable that he encouraged children to come to it, the poor in spirit to seek it, and the rich to be willing to let go of everything they owned to enter into it.  For three years, Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom and then, to the shock and dismay of every hope-filled follower, he was mocked, beaten, and put to death.  His disciples huddled in fear and depression because they had envisioned Jesus delivering Israel from Roman oppression and rule and establishing a political kingdom on this earth.  Now with his death, all hope seemed lost.  But three days later Jesus rose in power announcing that the Kingdom dream was as alive as he was.  He opened their minds to see that the kingdom he had been teaching about for three years was not a political kingdom, but a far greater one, a spiritual kingdom the rule of God in people’s hearts.  Forty days later, the Holy Spirit came to his disciples just as Jesus had promised and the Kingdom of God was born in a fresh new way…It was powerful and compelling.  People from everywhere were drawn to it.  And they called this new movement “The Church.”

True to Jesus’ vision, the church was like nothing anyone had ever experienced before.  In that very first church, the people devoted themselves to teaching, to fellowship, to celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and to praying for one another.  The atmosphere of welcome and excitement was so electric that a sense of wonder was with them every time they met.  The Bible records that miracles took place in that church.  One of the miracles was that people had such heartfelt love for one another that they willingly sold their possessions, giving to anyone in the group who had a need.  This new thing called “The Church” was so compelling that the Bible says the people in the church met together every day—sometimes at the Temple for public worship, sometimes in homes for more intimate fellowship.  Members of the church ate together with glad and sincere hearts.  They praised God for letting them be part of this amazing movement.  That church was so irresistible—so contagious—that “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  They became part of God’s family and part of the vision that Jesus had preached about, prayed about, and died for.

Friends, what we read about in Acts 2 is how God envisions His Church, not just in Jerusalem, but all over the world, including right here in Sand Springs.  How does a church become like that original church in Acts 2?  That church pursued five purposes that can make any church compelling, powerful and influential.  So listen carefully, because this is what God wants Sand Springs United Methodist Church to be like, too; and it can happen starting today if we commit to pursuing the priorities the first church did.

What Made that Church So Compelling?
1. They committed to authentic community.
How many of you wish that, just once in your life, you could be in a group where you were known and loved and served and celebrated just for who you are (raise your hands)? We all want that, right?  The church is where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be.  The Church, energized by the Holy Spirit and motivated by a relational commitment to one another, has a power to change lives like nothing else on earth.

The second compelling purpose of that first church was:
2. They gave God wholehearted worship.
One of the things that made the first church so attractive was that its members understood that it was God who had made them, given them breath, saved them, and provided their daily bread.  So they assembled for worship every week and they worshiped.  The text says, “They devoted themselves to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  When the Lord’s Supper was served, they didn’t take it for granted.  When someone needed prayer, brothers and sisters laid hands on them and prayed fervently for God to come through.  They worshipped God for who he was and what he had done for them. When God answered their prayers, they gave him full credit.

The third compelling purpose of that first church was:
 3. They took their spiritual growth seriously.
Every time one of their gifted teachers was teaching, they were dialed in.  Why? Because in that church, they believed that personal spiritual growth was important.  Jesus had touched them, and they wanted to become as much like Him as possible.  It’s really why we’re on earth: to become like Jesus.  Lots of people take their golf game, their bank account, or their career seriously…Yet, the most important thing—our relationship with God—can often be neglected if we’re not intentional about it.  God gave us the Church so we could be with God and his people and learn about God and his ways.

The fourth compelling purpose of the first church is:
4. They invested in positive priorities.
They invested their time, talents, and treasures in what really mattered.   In the Acts 2 church, because they had a sense of community and a sense of gratitude to God and a desire to become more like him, the text says, “All the believers had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.”  This shows they had control of their finances so that when a need arose, they not only could meet it, they got excited about meeting it.  Most people can’t do that today…You know why?…We’ve spent ourselves out of control.  The people in the first church decided they weren’t going to live that way…They got control of their finances so that they could give to positive priorities.  They lived in anticipation that Jesus could return at anytime, so they let go of their stuff and reached out to help others and share the Good News with others.  They invested in positive and eternal priorities…People…Needs…Things that last longer than a latte and go deeper than a new truck.  It’s not that material things are bad…But God says the things that will last are people and His Word. So we ought to invest in those things.  I understand that for some of you the budget is tight…With the struggling economy, you may be living paycheck to paycheck.  But it’s not just about money…You have skills and abilities that could be used in the church and that would greatly encourage other people.  While Jesus was creating a vision for this thing called the church, in his sermon on the mount, he said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  My life isn’t going to last all that long, so I want my heart and my treasure to be in heaven with the King.

The fifth compelling purpose of the first church is found in Acts 2:47: as a result of all the things going on, “The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.”
5. That first church invited others to join them.
After all, who wouldn’t want to be part of something where people are genuine, where God gets the credit, and people are becoming more kind and generous?  Inviting people to that church was easy because the people loved their church.  The reason we participated in Back to Church Sunday was because we want our church to be like that church. We’re committed to working to become like it: An authentic community of faith that worships God wholeheartedly, is growing spiritually, is investing in positive and eternal priorities, and is inviting our family, friends, neighbors, community, and the world to become part of God’s family!

So here’s what we’re going to do: I challenge all of you to make a commitment to be here every Sunday for the next 5 weeks.  We’re going to experience the “30-Day Church Challenge,” where we discover how to fulfill our God-given potential by engaging in the five purposes practiced by the first church.  If you’re a guest this morning, I want to encourage you to come back and join us in this 30-Day Church Challenge.  Earlier I mentioned some tangible benefits of becoming part of a local church and I wasn’t kidding…Reputable studies really have shown that people who are in church regularly are more likely to have lower blood pressure, happier outlooks, better marriages, fewer divorces, and longer lives.  And besides that, all of us around here use deodorant and mouthwash, and we want you to come back.

REMEMBER: Imagination rules the world…I believe that when Jesus imagined his Church, he imagined you as part of it.  And I imagine all of you back here next Sunday.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen

[Thanks to Lifeway Christian Resources and OUTREACH for material used for National Back to Church Sunday.]